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Bulls' John Paxson Admits He Should Not Have Choked Vinny Del Negro

Back when the Chicago Bulls weren't totally awesome and Vinny Del Negro was the head coach (note: those conditions may have been related), things got nasty. In particular, after the Notorious V.D.N. let recently injured center Joakim Noah play more minutes than the doctors prescribed, Bulls boss John Paxson had a physical altercation with the coach. Pax reportedly choked and punched V.D.N. in the brawl in the bowels of United Center right after the game in question.

The whole incident was brushed under the rug as the Bulls pushed for the playoffs, and even after Del Negro was canned Pax didn't talk about publicly. But now that Chicago's again flying high, the subject is back on the table.

From the Sun-Times' Lacy J. Banks:

"It never should have happened, and I never should have done it," Paxson said Monday. "It was a heat-of-the-moment thing, and I was very frustrated with the way we were playing.

"What also disappointed me is that [Del Negro] never owned up to making a mistake. That says more about him than it does me. I was trying to protect my player [Noah, who was coming back from injuries], I did it in the wrong way and I'm not proud of that."

That is a pretty wonderful non-apology apology, a genre of which athletes and celebrities are wonderful at executing. At least Paxson bookends his criticism of Del Negro -- that he never owns up to making a mistake -- with autodeprecation. It's art, really.

Banks spins the story to come back to Tom Thibodeau, V.D.N.'s replacement, and chalks up the Del Negro episode as a mistake that turned out for the better. In actuality, that's a facile understanding of the Bulls and how the last three years have gone. The mistake was hiring Del Negro, who had no coaching experience at any level whatsoever, as the head coach in 2008, passing over, among others, Thibodeau, a lifer in the assistant coaching ranks. That the Bulls eventually hired Thibodeau doesn't excuse the initial Del Negro mistake. It may, if the Bulls have a great run, relegate the V.D.N. era to footnote status. But it doesn't excuse the initial mistake.